Sign up for our free weekday bulletin.

No need for a cruiser. Take a taxi, officer!

Published on

Phil Egan

We can all recall movies in which someone would jump in a taxi, point ahead and holler, “Follow that car!”

For Sarnia police in 1922, that scene may have conveyed an uncomfortable air of familiarity.

With a small surplus in the municipal coffers, Sarnia Police thought it was time the city bought its first police cruiser.

Mayor George Crawford agreed, but council thought otherwise. “Constable, take a taxi!” was its message for police.

Taxis had first appeared on Sarnia streets as early as 1905 with Sam Hitchcock’s eight-seater, but by 1922 horses were still pretty common on city thoroughfares. Over at the Sarnia Fire Department, they had only recently said goodbye to Barney and Mike, the last two fire horses to serve the city.

At a Dec. 11 council meeting, aldermen led by G.A.C. Andrew, chairman of the city’s finance committee, denied the request of the police commission arguing “the police department should not spend the money for an automobile at the present time.”

The police commission had requested a $6,000 increase, which included the lofty sum of $1,500 to acquire a police car. In supporting the purchase, Mayor Crawford said a vehicle would allow police to “patrol the city as it had never been patrolled before.”

This appealed to Alderman George Galloway, who noted patrols were needed in the city’s south ward, from which citizen complaints were coming “nearly every day.” It was also suggested “seven of every ten vehicles travelling down Christina Street” was speeding.

With a vehicle, Mayor Crawford argued, police could provide evidence to convict speeders in court.

Opponents provided figures suggesting police costs in Sarnia, at $1.33 per capita, were already higher than in other Ontario communities. Woodstock, with a population of 10,164, had a police appropriation of $9,658, or 95 cents per capita in 1921, while Kingston, with 22,230 people, was $1.03 per capita.

Kitchener paid 75 cents per capita and Guelph 97 cents for policing.

In a combination of financial caution and perhaps a lack of Christmas spirit, the arguments for a police car fell on deaf ears. Taxis, council concluded, would do just fine.

The era of “cops on the beat” would have to last a little longer.


More like this